Toronto Raptors player Fred VanVleet didn’t have much energy for basketball questions during a remote press conference on Tuesday. Instead, the 26-year-old was much more concerned about the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Sunday by Kenosha police.
As soon as the press conference started, VanVleet diverted a question about how he felt about his team taking on the Boston Celtics during the playoffs.
“I was pretty excited and then we all had to watch Jacob Blake get shot yesterday,” VanVleet said. “So that kind of changes the tone of things and puts things in perspective so that’s really kind of all that’s been on my mind.”
Blake was shot multiple times in the back on Sunday after he was walking away from police to enter his car. The police were initially called to the scene because of a “domestic disturbance,” however, witnesses say Blake wasn’t involved. Blake’s uncle, Justin Blake, told CNN, “It is outrageous. Who was he threatening? He had a tank top and shorts on. He had no weapon. He was going back to the car because the children needed to be checked on.” Blake survived the shooting, however, his father said he was left paralyzed and with “eight holes” in him, according to the Chicago Sun Times.
When another reporter asked VanVleet how he makes since of the shooting, he turned the question back on the reporter and asked, “How do you make sense of it?”
The reporter fumbles with their words, saying he “feels for everyone involved.”
VanVleet goes on to explain that he asked the reporter the question because often times Black athletes are tasked with combatting oppression. “At some point we’re the ones always with the microphone in our face, we’re the ones who always have to make a stand,” VanVleet said.
He continued, “At what point do we not have to speak about it anymore? Are we gonna hold everybody accountable or are we just going to put the spotlight on Black people or Black athletes and entertainers, saying what are you doing, what are you contributing to the community, what are you putting on the line?”
When another question came up about the Celtics series, VanVleet asserted, “I don’t really care about that right now” saying when it’s time to play he’ll be able to “lock in.” VanVleet’s answer comes amid reports that he and other players might boycott future games to bring attention to police violence.
VanVleet got more personal during the press conference when sports journalist Taylor Rooks asked how he was doing mentally.
“I’m a little bit all over the place,” VanVleet said. “You start to feel guilty a little bit. There’s a lot of stuff going on for me back home. People in my own community dying not by the hands of police but you know, by a product of their environment.”
VanVleet came of age in Illinois and he played basketball for Auburn High School in Rockford, Illinois. After playing college ball for Wichita State, VanVleet signed with the Raptors in 2016.
During the press conference, VanVleet continued, “It’s a lot to take in. I think we can’t underestimate the trauma that we take in on a daily basis from our phones and watching these videos. You watch a guy get shot in front of his entire family and then right underneath that video is somebody saying ‘hey, well he should have just listened to the police.’ You take all that in whether you register it or not, whether you realize what you’re looking at or not. You’re taking that in and that depreciation of life.”
VanVleet also said that the shooting “reopen wounds” because his father was killed when he was young. He said that at one point, he saw Vanessa Bryant‘s social media posts paying tribute to her late husband Kobe Bryant and VanVleet said he couldn’t help but cry in his room.
“I’m sitting there crying my eyes out because I lost my dad and obviously they lost a father and like I spoke about before, there’s people that I know being killed back home, and you just start to think about all these families that are experiencing these different things, and some you can’t avoid and some are very, very, very avoidable. Like the situations we’re watching do not have to be happening, like point, blank, period. There’s no reason for it other than hatred and systematic racism that is ingrained in our culture, in our society, in our people everyday.”